NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

REGULATING HEALTH CLAIMS IN ADVERTISING FOR FUNCTIONAL FOODS AND NATURAL HEALTH PRODUCTS IN CANADA AND THE UNITED STATES

July 21, 2009

Canadian policy makers should study the merits of adopting a less rigid standard for health claims associated with food products.  It can be difficult to definitively prove that a particular food element reduces the risk of developing a disease, but the bulk of the research reviewed for a new study by the Fraser Institute seems to suggest that a number of food elements are associated with health benefits.

For a model of reform, Canada could look to the United States, which uses a tiered "qualified health claims" system.  Under the American system, the scientific evidence regarding a particular food product is used to rank its medical effectiveness against qualified health claims.  This rank then dictates the language that an advertiser can use to make a health claim.  The type of language that must be used in the United States includes, for example, the following:

  • "although there is scientific evidence supporting the claim, the evidence is not conclusive";
  • "very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests"; and,
  • "the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim".

Considering that the 27 permissible health claims in the United States are largely congruent with the scientific research, Canada should harmonize its regulations with those in the United States, says Fraser.  If anything, a wider array of permissible health claims in Canada would give advertisers further opportunity to bring the interaction between diet and health to the public's attention.  This would help individuals make informed health care decisions, and would advance the discussion of preventive medicine and market dynamics, while acknowledging legitimate worries about public safety and consumer protection, says Fraser.

Source: Mark Brosens, "The Regulation of Health Claims in Advertising for Functional Foods and Natural Health Products in Canada and the United States," Fraser Institute, July 2009.

 

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